The Wine Merchant issue 30 - revision

 

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The Wine Merchant issue 30 - revision

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THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 30, October 2014 The magazine that really takes the biscuit Stores need to become more female-friendly Specialist independent wine shops still have a problem attracting female customers, research has revealed. drink wine ever buy from indies, compared to 17 per cent of men. Eleven per cent of women and 6 per cent Only 10 per cent of women who regularly cent figure recorded among men. in independents is that consumers say they are happier shopping in supermarkets. But the report also contains encouraging The most common reason for not shopping THIS MONTH 2 BACCHUS The wine shop that’s the best live music venue in town 4 comings & GOINGS of men who don’t shop in independents say they feel intimidated about going inside, which will be published in full in the Merchant. news. The second most cited reason for not shopping in independents is “there isn’t one convenient to where I live or work”, decade. suggesting there is still scope for more store openings – a trend that has continued for a Among those consumers that do shop in Southwell’s first wine merchant for 30 years 6 tried & TESTED according to the Wine Intelligence research, Some rich pickings from the September tastings 9 merchant profile coming weeks in partnership with The Wine shop in independents say that wines there are too expensive, compared to the 33 per Thirty-nine per cent of women who don’t independent specialists, the top reasons for offer, getting recommendations from staff, doing so are, in order, the range of wines on Off to the Black Country to meet The Wine Press team 14 david williams value for money and the opportunity to taste. How I learned to relax and love food and wine pairing 18 price matching Does it make sense to compete with Majestic? 22 FOCUS ON NAVARRA Five independents take a fresh look at the region 30 focus on BORDEAUX Are independents still prepared to get behind claret? 36 suppler bulletin Around 7 ,000 people attended 100 events at this summer’s London Wine Week, and organisers say they hope for even bigger things in 2015. See page 3. Essential updates from leading agents and importers

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BACCHUS As well as drinking wine from the shop, of wine. We’re taking it slowly and seeing how it goes.” wholesaler and can be sold at ambient temperatures, though Rymill is also will require refrigeration. those who attend the store’s events can buy food. “We’ve got a lady doing Thai street curries,” Hardcastle says. surprisingly few problems with The business has encountered The products are sourced from an Italian officialdom, or local residents. “We’ve got an on-licence for the shop, and the local they’re OK with it. council are quite enlightened. As long as we keep it within a few metres of the shop considering offering sliced salami, which licence to allow sales by the glass, but wines himself. The store has also applied for an on- Musical cheers in deepest Essex Saffron Walden is a livelier place than its genteel image suggests, at least in Market Row, the home of Joseph Barnes Wines. important live music venue in the Essex town. In the summer months, bands The store has established itself as an couple of residents who enjoy music, so we The bands do get quite loud but the noise doesn’t seem to bother anybody.” any incidents or major breakages at the to mind,” he says. bribe them with a couple of glasses of wine. Hardcastle reports there have never been “There are only shops around here, and a Rymill says he has no plans to invest in a dispensing device, preferring to pour the into the shop and another way of engaging with people,” he says. here and a lot of them are looking for material things, because they’ve got do something.” “We’ve got a few retirees around “It’s another reason for people to come events, though he has switched to plastic This summer’s music season drew to glasses for safety reasons. “Nobody seems a close at the end of September with a Pogues drummer Andrew Ranken. an experience. They’re not into buying enough of them at home. They’re looking to performance by The Mysterious Wheels, a blues/country/rock and roll band led by wine shop, people think we’re a poncey “Because we’re a small independent Andrew Ranken provided the summer finale old-school merchant,” says Hardcastle. “It’s an image we’re constantly trying to dispel, and these things do help.” perform on a portable stage outside the shop. hold street parties every four to six weeks during the summer,” explains owner Charles Hardcastle. “It’s a way of raising a bit of extra “We’re down a little side street and we Italian food is just the job for Rymill Yorkshire artist Tim Bulmer has designed the cover for Taurus Wines’ Chilean wine brochure. Bulmer, who has also produced commissions for Taylor’s Port and the Mont Tauch co-operative, was a childhood neighbour of Taurus owner Rupert Pritchett in Surrey. He also produced the artwork for the Argentina catalogue. The Wine Room in Tankerton, near Whitstable, is branching into new territory by selling Italian pasta and sauces. and locally-made chocolates in the shop and they’re working very nicely,” says “We’ve been doing some Italian nibbles revenue and improving the profile a bit. people.” We get some interesting bands – my son’s a musician so he knows some interesting Crowds can reach “a couple of hundred” in the street, while winter music nights in the shop itself can accommodate around 30 people. owner Henry Rymill. “So we’re just going to expand and do some sauces and pasta for people on their way home who want an easy meal that goes with their bottle THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 2

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Flying Füchs “Our Man with the Facts” Thirty-five independents took part, despite scepticism from others Wine week will return in May The organisers of London Wine Week are making plans for “an even greater festival” in May next year – but they say the activity will remain confined to the capital. involved in the inaugural LWW, including Borough Wines, Roberson, Pall Mall Fine Murphy says she was “over the moon consumers and our partners”. with response to the event, both from There were 35 independent merchants than retailers. • Turkey has more acres of vines merchants taking part is to see an increase in new customers as a result of the wide audience of targeted consumers that we that LWW offers. market our event to, who each purchase “Our post-event consumer feedback Murphy counters: “The main benefit for than the USA and is fifth in the global USA in seventh place is Iran, which has a larger vineyard area than its Portugal. The top four places are China. nearest rivals Chile, Argentina and vineyard league table. Just behind the wristbands to get involved in all activities survey shows that our audience drink wine at home as frequently as they would do at a bar or restaurant – an average of three times a week. discount may be difficult for some, and in some cases amended to suit. “Participation for independent “We totally understand that a 20% occupied by Spain, France, Italy and • The flowery aromas found in Muscat and Gewürztraminer come from alcohol compounds known as monoterpenes. Among these are linalool – also used in perfumes a mosquito repellent and gives geraniums their smell. and insecticide – and geraniol, a pale yellow liquid that works as Wine and The Wine Pantry. Director Emma directed to stores where wine events were taking place, and discounts of 20% were available. This did not find favour with some independents, among them Paul Shanley of Prohibition Wines. “By the time you’ve also knocked off Consumers who bought wristbands were where specifically requested the offer was merchants within the festival is completely free of charge, and so it is seen that the is deemed entirely worth it against the value of marketing that is received.” small loss of revenue from discount offers Next year’s LWW will take place from focusing mainly on the Symphony grape, a cross between Grenache Volcano winery is also releasing • There are two wineries on Hawaii, the credit card commission, cost of bags etc, the wine will be selling at little over about wristbands. My customers won’t Gris and Muscat of Alexandria. The Pinot Noir from the 2013 vintage. cost,” he says. “I’m also slightly sceptical be bothered with them and I’m not sure new ones will either.” He suggests that the May 18-24, coinciding with the London Wine Fair. Suggestions that other cities could get involved are dismissed. “We will definitely be sticking with London for the time being. There is so much to do here, enough to keep us busy for a good while.” • French chemist Angelo Mariani’s and cocaine. It was endorsed by Queen Victoria and Pope Leo XIII. Vin Mariani was a blend of red wine scheme may be better suited to bars rather THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 3

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Wine highlights at former barber’s Husband and wife team Gosia and Chris Bailey have made their first foray into wine retailing with a new shop in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. Accolade Wines, but is now switching his line-up. Chris was until recently working for attention to a more exclusive and specialist in a former barber shop in the centre of the town, which has a population of less than 7,000 but is known for its affluence. moved up to Southwell a year ago,” says Gosia. “We’ve always had a passion for am going through the WSET courses. “Southwell is very quaint, really “We were living in West Sussex and “A lot of people have said we’ve hit on a The store, named Mr & Mrs Fine Wine, is Chris Bailey: “Something for the weekend, sir?” gold mine here.” was finally given the go-ahead on the basis that it is not restricted to wine. It is not alcoholic drinks as well,” Long says. “We’re getting in juices and nonallowed to offer free or paid-for samples. “We’re going to be bringing in Bulgarian, it a destination for central and eastern range is a £10 Malvazia. Husband Trevor says: “We’ve been wine, and tasted a lot of good ones, and I traditional. It’s got the butcher and the Wine World sale Honiton independent Wine World is on the market at a freehold asking price of £450,000, or £175,000 leasehold. ends and receivership stock, is situated in the High Street and claims a turnover of The Devon store, which specialises in bin baker and it’s a really booming town. We moment of madness!” saw the shop for rent and thought it would be perfect as a wine shop. It was kind of a The store has been fitted with custom- Turkish and Romanian wines, and making European wine.” The cheapest wine in the surprised by the amount of young people built shelving, which accommodates wine with a starting price of around £9.99. “We’re covering all the bases of the New World and Old World at the moment – Gosia says. Suppliers include Hallgarten Druitt, £813,168, with a gross profit of £176,386. The business has been in its current the public and 85% of those sales are wine. ownership for more than 20 years. Ninety-five per cent of sales are made to that want to drink good wine. There are a lot of students round here and they really will pay a few pounds more for it.” The store will not undercut any of the we’re probably a little bit heavy on France,” Bibendum and Fells, as well as smaller Sommelier’s Choice. want to know about high quality wine and stores Pacta supplies on a wholesale Market move Pacta Connect has established a shop in the newly-redeveloped Brighton Open Market, from which it has started selling the Croatian wines it imports direct from producers. or 10 months,” says owner Judith Long. “We went for the licence in the market “We’ve been looking at retailing for nine companies such as Bordeaux & Beyond and adds Gosia. “It’s a real joy and pleasure to have our business in the town and “The response so far has been fantastic,” basis. “We’re price-matching our retail customers,” Judith says. “If somebody them to Harvey Nicks to get the wine there.” comes in says ‘I live in London’ we’ll send servicing the area around. We are fortunate that there is no other wine merchant in are incredibly happy to see one back in Southwell. the town, and hasn’t been for many years. The feedback we are getting is that people • Winemakers Club has opened a shop time occupied by Oddbins. last year and they turned us down. They in an arch at Farringdon in London, at one • The Hampstead Butcher & Providore is opening a second branch, in West Hampstead, with a specialist wine range. then came back and said ‘can you not do alcohol?’ and we said ‘that’s a bit difficult’.” The shop, which is open six days a week, THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 4

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tried & Tested Botanica The Mary Delany Collection Chenin Blanc 2012 Bostonian Ginny Povall produces this beautifullytextured Chenin with fruit from the Citrusdal Mountains. It’s a hot and arid area but the cool nights top vessels, with Povall punching the must by hand, which helps her achieve a constant temperature. RRP: £19.95 ABV: 13.5% Dreyfus Ashby (01636 858774) dreyfus-ashby.co.uk Oldenburg Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 This Stellenbosch stunner explodes on the palate, as you might expect from a Cabernet at 15%. But the purity of the fruit is what makes the lasting impact: hearty fare for the winter ahead. RRP: £22 ABV: 15% connoisseurestates.co.uk blackcurrants are the dominant flavour but there’s a rich seam of Christmas cake running through. Good Connoisseur Estates (01344 862230) help preserve the acidity. The wine ferments in open- Gauchezco Oro Malbec 2009 If you’re making a single-vineyard Malbec with 95-year-old Maipu vines, the odds are that you’re producing something special – yet this family-owned producer only releases the wine in the best years. and coffee, underpinned by judicious oak. RRP: £24.99 ABV: 14% Connoisseur Estates (01344 862230) connoisseurestates.co.uk This is classy fare, understated at first but building gradually to reveal complex flavours of cassis, cherry Peter Lehmann Very Special Vineyard 1885 Shiraz 2012 David Gleave says it’s “a dream come true” to sell Lehmann wines in the UK, and this luxurious wine its wonderfully leathery, with notes of eucalyptus, offer superb value at this kind of price point. RRP: £29.99 ABV: 14.5% Liberty Wines (020 7720 5350) libertywines.co.uk partly explains why. Made with old-vine Barossa fruit, liquorice and nutmeg. Proof indeed that Australia can Niepoort Projectos Baga 2011 Raymond Reynolds presented a galaxy of Portuguese stars at the Dirty Dozen tasting and this was one of the most eye-catching. Made in Barraida, it’s 100% Baga and has a great medicinal nose, almost illicit in welcome freshness. RRP: £25 Rogue Vine Grand Itata Blanco 2013 Chardonnay dominates this intriguing blend, but the without compromising the structure. The fruit of changing lazy preconceptions about Chile. RRP: £16.60 ABV: 13.5% Indigo Wine (020 7733 8391) indigowine.com comes from dry-farmed bush vines, with minimal 40% Muscat component injects a warming sweetness intervention. Like its Tinto sibling, it’s a wine capable its decadence. The tannins are still quite firm but the fruit edges them aside and the brisk acidity supply a ABV: 13% Raymond Reynolds (01663 742230) raymondreynolds.co.uk Paccamora Alcamo Bianco 2013 This Sicilian blend of Catarratto (60%) and Grillo is citrus and a curious mineral finish. It’s an eminent fruity and rich on the palate, with notes of melon and reminder of what wine, in its purest form, should be be under way. RRP: £9.99 about: a little bit of hedonistic pleasure and means of blocking out the idea that World War III may already ABV: 12.5% Liberty Wines (020 7720 5350) libertywines.co.uk Zorzal Terroir Unico Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 It’s recommended that this Uco Valley wine is served reintroduced during fermentation and add a nice on the fruit front. Zorzal “prefers austerity to RRP: £10-£11 ABV: 13.5% Barwell & Jones (020 8418 2888) barwellandjones.com vegetal crunch to a wine that is already restrained cool to fully appreciate its nuances. Some stems were exuberance” and in this case the formula works well. THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 6

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bits & BOBs FAVOURITE THINGS Iain Smith Smith’s Wines Exeter Dearer Burgundy, and less of it Burgundy exports to the UK fell by 24 per cent to 7.8 million bottles in the first seven months of 2014, according to BIVB figures. cent, reflecting the higher prices being paid. “We risk losing shares in traditional Sales value was down less, by 7.7 per wine. Magpie admitted they knew “nothing at all” about Vins, said: “In general French people think the wine world is complicated. Because about it.” Rodolphe Wartel, director of Terre de Favourite wine on my list continues to amaze me. Not just the fabulous Pinot Noirs but also their Felton Road from Central Otago behind the taste there is a whole universe, The Guardian, September 2 markets because of higher prices,” said Bourgogne. a language, they fear expressing an opinion which all benefit from some bottle age. understand the benefits of patience. Favourite food and wine match The perfect wine to help customers stunning Chardonnays and Rieslings Pierre Gernelle, director of the Federation des Syndicats de Négociants-Eleveurs de “Some regular customers may not want Chapel Down up Chapel Down hopes to raise up to £4 million in a crowdfunding exercise that will fund the lease on 400 acres of land. a new winery, distribution centre and a visitor attraction on the Tenterden site. the first of 2014 to £2.44 million. Wine volumes were up 12 per cent. Decanter.com, September 8 The company saw sales rise 21% in The money will also be used to build to buy Burgundy any more as prices trend higher, so we hope that 2014 will bring a Decanter.com, September 23 One of my most memorable moments was a bowl of pumpkin soup, with a medallion of foie gras and a glass of Felton Road Riesling. Lush! Favourite wine trip normal harvest and result in softer prices.” Then south to Bordeaux then east, round on to Gevrey Chambertin before heading north for Epernay and then home. Favourite wine trade person the Riviera into Italy. Back through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Geneva and then Exeter to Dover, through the tunnel and then west to the mouth of the Loire. Sassailo in Italy for a wedding. From A friend and I decided to drive to Brunello fraud Italian police have seized 160,000 litres Someone’s got to pay for the upkeep of cheap red wine that was about to be passed off as Brunello di Montalcino and other prized Tuscan wines. 220,000 bottles, could have sold for as much as £4 million. including a wine expert, obtained fake labels and documents. The Telegraph, September 10 The wine, which would have filled Je n’en sais rien Seventy-one per cent of French drinkers do not consider themselves to be knowledgeable about wine, according to a poll carried out by Terre de Vins magazine. Forty-three per cent of those surveyed available for tastings and bringing really world to give masterclasses in my shop. Favourite wine shop L’Intendant, Bordeaux. Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle! interesting people from all over the James Hearn of Berkmann. He’s been so supportive in making himself Police suspect that a group of fraudsters, The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 744 independent wine by Graham Holter. Printed by East Print. © Graham Holter Ltd 2014 England: No 6441762 shops. Except one, and that’s deliberate. Edited Registered in VAT 943 8771 82 www.winemerchantmag.com 01323 370451 Twitter: @WineMerchantMag winemerchantmag@gmail.com THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 8

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merchant profile: the wine press “The industry is crap for online retail. Everything that you can Ed Wilson: heir apparent who’s worked in the possibly imagine can be since wrong is wrong.” family firm university Family fortunes The Wine Press in Stourbridge made a £5,000 loss in its first year. It’s now turning over £3.2 million. Irish-born Barry Wilson is gradually handing over the reins to his son Edward, but his enthusiasm is undimmed – even when faced with squeezed margins, and grumpy customers on Christmas morning B arry Wilson can take you on a tour of his sizeable shop and quote the profit he makes on Wilsons buy very well, whether it’s direct from producers, UK agents, or picking up one-off parcels on the open market. finance,” says Barry, whose roll-call of “When I started I knew nothing about are all the same. Very few have got work.” every bottle you care to point out. At A-levels. They’ve all done it themselves through sheer determination and hard The business occupies a site near one of 68, he’s seems to be as hands-on as ever building from scratch three decades ago son, Ed, is the future. The Wine Press is at heart a homely, when discussing the business he started – even though he is keen to stress that his family set-up, but there’s an almost previous jobs is almost as long as his wine list. “When I wanted to know something I’d ring up someone and asked them how they did it, and put it in my brain. One of break-even? What’s the formula? “I’ve always had a big network of Stourbridge’s busiest traffic junctions, in a former Mercedes garage. How did you make the decision to get into the wine business? Barry: I worked in the hotel business ruthless shrewdness to the operation. the interesting ones was: how do you get to business people, and most business people You get the distinct impression that the Continues page 10 THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 9

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merchant profile: the wine press From page 9 and in 1982 Eddie was born. I was doing shifts, getting home at 11.30pm, and I thought: I know a little bit about wine – not a great deal – so I’ll start in the wine business. Luckily I had a parallel business: my wife Nada is Yugoslavian and we were electronics, to the communist countries. war started. This site was on the market and I That went on from 83 to 89-90 when the If I’m honest my forte is being a spreadsheet man. I can run a tight-margin business thought, hang on, you have nothing here more than what it’s actually worth. We break even in a couple of years it will to sell. People always value their business actually lose money. That was foreign to me. of years we’ve just been the same as the previous year. – why? Barry: That was my decision. Because I’m you’re making a pound on that bottle, ex a numbers man, it’s very easy, if you know Ed: We’ve improved every year. A couple exporting consumer goods, predominantly thought: that would make a nice wine shop. We paid probably £50,000 more than it was worth and we bought it in 1993. We had a 10-year loan from the bank which 1997-1998. You have ambitions to grow your wouldn’t go down the rental route because of the cost of setting it up, and if you don’t probably take you four or five years to go thought I’d rather have this as a base. hard to expand. lost money? Barry: In 31 years I lost money once. When I built this site, I was acting as the I thought: oh my god – I’ve actually lost Ed: Margins have been squeezed. It’s so into a new area to get really established. I You’ve switched to a cash margin system we paid off in six. So we’ve owned it since business … I was going to have a chain of these things. But then you’ve got staffing issues and theft issues. chain? Barry: Well, I was in talks with another and wanted to amalgamate the two businesses. I looked at their assets and wine merchant and they were in trouble How close did you get to creating a Have you ever had a year when you’ve tax, and somebody comes in for 24 bottles 24 quid do you give away? and they want a better discount, you know In the good days you could say, I’ll do a you’ve got 24 quid on it. How much of your POR of 30% on everything I ship and a POR of 20% on anything I buy in secondary in now everybody is tuned to wanting a deal, know, and my team does, physically what you make on a bottle of wine. My lowest wine. cash margin would be 60p on a bottle of contractor and the architect, up on the roof and all over the place. I had my audit and money! I phoned my accountant up and said: I’ve lost 5,000 quid! I was shocked the UK, and hopefully that will all work. But you have to move to a cash margin so’s you to think I was working six days a week to How much are you shipping yourself? Barry: All French; most Italian. shipping via UK agents? Barry: We did deal with Maisons Marques and their New Zealand range, which was Mud House. They’ve lost that to Accolade range. We haven’t bothered with Chile as yet because the entry-level we buy in is The site was once a Mercedes garage. “We had a 10-year loan, which we paid off in six” Are these your own contacts or are you Wines now so we’re going to look for a new good enough from Bottle Green; I can’t see the merit in shipping and paying the duty and then sitting on it and warehousing it THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 10

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because there’s no money on it. packed two-bottle packs – we stopped that when they started wanting to charge us to do it. I hit on the idea – I got one of my me six or seven pallets of Aussie red and suppliers and I said why don’t you pre-pack white, Shiraz/Cab, Sem/Chard, bring it all charge me for the packaging. in – the work’s done. That was going on for a number of years and then they wanted to is being a spreadsheet man. I’m very good at figures. Because of that you can run a lost in the mire. achieve? Barry: We did £3.2 million turnover last on its own and we’re probably going to year. The shop is capable of doing a million go down that route now, and go for more aggressive retailing, and not go down the like that and say oh, well, I was advised grand. And you just lose it. tight margin business, otherwise you’d be I suppose if I’m honest about it my forte We were shipping from Australia, pre- delivered by the local one. Running around with a case of wine in a Merc van with doesn’t make sense. someone on £21,000 a year, and you’ve got six or seven quid on the case … it just Even so, a lot of independents are beguiled by internet. Barry: It’s a bit like Twitter and Facebook. two screens on my computer and I’ve got an iPad and an iPhone. So I’m quite techy but primarily they’re not our target I’m not on Twitter or Facebook, but I have but I don’t see the point of it or the value of it. People say you’ve got to go on Facebook, customer. Our target customer will be a business person, your AB, AB1s, people the shop can be doing 10 grand a day. You’re in a large conurbation, but as people might assume. Barry: There’s a huge density of cash and carries and supermarkets. Waitrose have gone very aggressive – from being very expensive they’ve gone very cheap. Barry: cash margins make it easier to calculate deals salmon. You can bespoke whatever. a hamper for £50 or £100, Ed: We do about 500 hampers in gifts … What kind of turnover does the business December. It’s with disposable income. At Christmas time mainly customer Barry: … staff gifts; corporate side is there’s not as much direct competition incentives. But that slowing down now. to have struggled recently – people are nervous about giving or receiving business gifts. Barry: We’re the same – we won’t take anything off our supply chain. We’ll price, because I haven’t got time. Christmas? Barry: I work from the third Thursday in November to the 24th of December, and Continues page 12 That market seems on-trade route. There’s so much bad debt going on. People can flip the company just by my accountant. Yes, you owe me seven Ed: This is a generalisation but the female shopper will go out shopping and put a How well are you doing with web sales? Barry: Online doesn’t work. You can’t make any money on it. I don’t know any online wine merchant apart from Direct Wines who are making money. When you take the costs of a 12-bottle bubble pack, it’s £4.10. That’s in 1,000 lots. Transport is a fiver, so that’s £9.10 ex VAT. We charge £8.99 P&P. The only way you can absorb it is to put the price up and hopefully people will buy it. But the internet is all about price … you personally I don’t see the value in the We’ve spent a lot of time on this but few bottles in her bag, which she’ll see on a half-price offer which was never half price and job’s done. We’re more of a special Blossom Hill”. destination: “I want a nice bottle of wine Barry: We also do a lot of gifts, hampers and that sort of thing. You come in here hand-made chocolates, the Stilton, the at Christmas time and you’ve got all the in the first place. The gentleman gets home for Saturday night because I’m sick of this just want price. If they want to offer me a day out golfing, I’ll say no. I just want the How hectic does life get here at Google the price and it just shoots up there. one-man band trying to be a big e-retailer. It works for the likes of Majestic because and they’ll take an order and it will be they’ve got the stores all round the country, Online doesn’t work. You can’t make any money on it because it’s all about price THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 11

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merchant profile: the wine press From page 11 I’ve done that for 14 years. nothing at all. You just work through it. Staff have their party Christmas Eve, I ply them with Champagne, I drink sparkling Grange. I don’t drink any alcohol in that period, I ask customers how much they think I make on a £6 bottle. They say £2 or £3 the internet orders coming in from London and you think, crikey. They’re buying most of the Champagne and fine wine. It’s a different world, and they’re spending. how much they think I make on a £6 bottle of wine and the normal answer is two or three pounds. There’s still in our view a lot of hooky One of my little gems is asking customers water. Then I go home, have a nice bottle of have a look at it and see if we’ve done the bizzo … sometimes I might walk round the warehouse. And then I used to, up to customers on Christmas morning with a I pop in here Christmas morning to just To what extent are the fortunes of the business allied to the economic fortunes of Birmingham? Barry: I think we’ve had a heavier recession than most people will admit to. If somebody comes into your shop and they open a wine and they’ve got nine or 10 all those credit cards for lifestyle. credit cards, that tells you one thing: they three years ago, go out and see all my trade present. I’d be gone from 9.30am till about 1.30pm. I stopped doing that when I went the cellar giving me all this earache about how badly he was doing. I said, cheer up, it’s Christmas morning. I’ve come to give you a nice bottle of Sancerre! That suggests you’re not just a spreadsheets man. It suggests you love what you’re doing. Barry: I’ll be in the warehouse packing, I’ll be chivvying the team on, I’ll be leading from the front. You can’t just be stuck in your ivory tower, you’ve got to be out there. I can walk into my warehouse and look at a in there and recall it line on line on line. So you get immersed within your line of stock and know exactly what I’ve got business and you can’t go round in January and say “I’ve had a piss-poor year” when you haven’t put the effort in. Then I’ll go golf. off on a nice long holiday and I play a lot of Do you feel separate from the Londonbased wine trade? Barry: The wine trade in London is there. different from the wine trade out of to one restaurant account; he was down in wine out there – hooky means tax evasion. Anybody doing three-for-£10: it has to be and you can’t buy three bottles of wine. and close them down. hooky. You put the duty in at £6.15 ex VAT Where I find it difficult is HMRC don’t go in people and a lot of the hookey stuff comes o’clock at night. HMRC are predominantly nine-to-five haven’t got any money, and they’re running down. Prosecco has gone right up there. We would probably be the best retailers they can’t afford it. days? Ed: Anything on the Champagne side, definitely. On the more romantic side, Champagne sales for us have gone hugely in on a white van to the corner shop at nine You seem to be kindred spirits but are there areas where you see things completely differently? Ed: To be fair we’ve got a good family bond. Obviously we do have arguments and don’t see everything eye to eye but we’ve got a long-term goal and I think we do try and get there in a similar sort of way. Are your palates similar? of Champagne in the West Midlands, but people are not buying Champagne because Are people more price-conscious these where we can hand-sell something that has small production, you can command a different premium, especially on special it really is just price. Ed: I’m getting towards his palate. I just have to have a wine with a bit of tannin occasions. When you want to buy your core Taittinger, Laurent Perrier, Veuve Clicquot, Barry: If you like wine and drink wine four if you’ve got kids, to buy £10 bottles of open something that’s affordable. and not compete on price. I go around supermarkets checking wine. Those days are gone. So you have to prices. You can’t have a big store like this in, it’s got to have some body. I have to be it’s too rounded, too smooth, I get lost in progressed though travelling. range? Barry: We’re moving away from retailing saying, I can’t buy off you because my customers can come into your shop and reminded that I’m drinking a nice wine. If or five times a week, you can’t really afford, it. It’s too easy. I think my palate has really Do you have a separate wholesale London. There’s a lot of disposable income Ed: It’s a different country. You see some of core lines. The problem you have is people THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 12

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Ed: “We’ve got a good family bond. We’ve got a long-term goal and I think we try to get there in a similar way” buy it. I say, yeah, well they can go to bottle of gin. It’s really all nonsense. Sainsbury’s and buy a fillet steak and a Barry: We’re now thinking that if people don’t want to do it on our terms, we’re type of business. My argument would be, if you order strong enough to say we don’t want that 60 bottles of wine off me this week, and much is it? How much can we make on it? commercial arm which has 20 core wines which they offer to the on-trade. It’s the same wine as retail but just a different same route. label and we’re probably going down that You mentioned bad debt earlier. Do you have a problem getting paid by trade customers? Barry: People don’t pay you because they haven’t got any money. When you’re it’s all done on trust. Majestic are quite clever. They’ve got a People we do a lot of business with, we just say, send us a sample. We are aware of the in sending it out by carrier. duty cost, the bottle cost, the costs involved You have the safety net of the freehold – if all else failed you’ve got an asset. Barry: Yeah, but at my age I don’t feel I’ve achieved what I should have achieved. Seriously. I could have run any big company because it’s not quite as difficult to run a big business as it is to start from nothing and get to where I am – that is harder. Because your arse is out the I’ve made on entry-level wine about 60p, to pay me. I am financing your cash flow. 12%. They’re making eight or nine quid! lists, we do staff training. We try all the effort into it. All we want is to be paid. you see many reps? ex-tax, and you re-order next week – well, you’ve been paid, and there’s no reason not Your average on-trade margin is 10% or Ed: We deliver same day, we do lovely wine wines so we put a lot of heart and soul and How do you make your selection – do Barry: I don’t want to see them. Anything we’re interested in, we send them an for. Then there’s no commitment to buy. buying, you never say to the person you’re We’re probably an exception to the rule buying off, I’m sorry but I can’t pay you. So – we’ll probably pay all our supply chain in less than 30 days, because we’re cash positive. Ed: That’s because you’ve built that up. especially if you’re supplying on-trade. window; the consequence of error is you go bust; your house is on the line for so the game. many years. Then you get squeezed on the margin, a few bad debts and you’re out of hard to get to where we are. There’s no lucky. I’ve had a good career and I’ve worked On such a low-margin business you can’t, email: send us a sample – which we’ll pay it? What’s it going to compete with? How Then we sit down at the table. Can we sell secret: if you work hard, you can get lucky. It doesn’t always follow, but you can get THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 13

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just williams Making a meal of it We all know that people can get impossibly precious about wine and food pairing. Yet if we think of wine as an ingredient, and remember we’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves, the cause is not lost I ’m a relatively recent convert to the together I loved best of all. But the finicky specific dishes (should it be Rousseau’s Roche 2002?) always left me cold. Clos de Bèze ‘99 with the roast crown of idea of wine and food matching. Wine I loved, food I loved, and wine and food the speakers meant there were plenty that the term didn’t appear in tasting that gently dismissed the notion that of interesting nuggets to take away from the event. After reminding the audience notes until the 1980s, Jamie Goode gave agonising over the precise match for highly pigeon with mousseron, or the Clos de la a short, cogent talk on minerality in wine wine (grapes grown on granite will not think at those dinners where each course on the creative brilliance of the wine pairing as the dishes went cold. It’s not meant to be an outlet for pedantry and textbook. was preceded by a 10-minute disquisition It’s supposed to be fun, guys, I tended to As with sport, revelations about cheating fuel soils directly transmit mineral flavours to be granite-flavoured), while leaving open best described as mineral. the possibility that certain soils do have a tendency to produce wines with qualities In the uninvitingly named session on the a source of fear of the faux-pas, still less a basis for a 500-page pseudo-scientific Provençal chef Christian Etienne, of the I credit a conversation with the Never mind the scallops US on-trade, meanwhile, Ray Isle, executive wine editor of US magazine Food & Wine, filled his speech with genuinely interesting where every bottle on a restaurant or the use of digital scales for ensuring wines, priced to the millilitre. anecdotes on current trends over there: the remarkable rise of flat pricing, for example, merchant’s list is $50; the emergence of perfectly accurate servings of high-end wine lists arranged entirely by soil type; a convention devoted to the subject month. eponymous restaurant in Avignon, as the and learned to love the liaison. Wine and food matching is not an art or a science, like cooking: you look at the dish, and organised by Torres in Barcelona last moment when I relaxed, stopped worrying Etienne said. But you can take it seriously without being pompous or precious. “It’s each ingredient does something; each is important. Nobody objects to that, it’s as the last ingredient.” for the day-long biennial event suggests, the organisers of The Wine & Culinary that they might be taking gastronomy just a little too seriously. And you can be unduly concerned with suggestions As the quasi-academic name they chose International Forum were never going to natural. You just have to think of the wine let out an exasperated sigh when I read These days, I no longer feel the need to get a sense of the event’s curious mix of business breakfast briefing and Pseud’s Corner audition from its session titles alone. “Creativity and Wine. Creativity and innovation applied to the service and the sale of wine and beverages in successful restaurants from the US”, rubbing boundaries of taste”. shoulders with “The end of geographical matter was, however, the high calibre of As eclectic and diffuse as the subject BUT IT WAS the food and wine matching and drink of the event. Josep Roca, the sommelier in the band of three brothers that run the much lauded 2013 World’s the small city of Girona an hour’s drive north of Barcelona, spent the first half Best Restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in sessions that provided the, as it were, meat a press release from a Champagne house recommending partridge to go with their spirit of acceptance of all things food and wine matching-related that I attended rosé. I’ve mellowed. And it was in this new of his talk employing a barrage of charts uses a detailed analysis of the chemical components of both food and wine – as and scientific formulae to explain how he THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 14

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David Williams is wine critic for The Observer well as saliva – to come up with his matches. Maybe it was the poor quality of food matching at its most po-faced and lab-bound. the translation, but this felt like wine-andI was feeling much the same way as Roca green apple, green herbs, truffle and a Chablis distillate; or an Albariño essence served on a granite dish (to mimic Rías Baixas soils) with lemon, apple and laurel leaves. This was food and wine matching deconstructed and taken to its extremes. But there was a sense of mischief and exploration that was hard to resist. five to 35-year-olds are really interested in fine wine, but they don’t necessarily want to go into fine-dining establishments”. hamburger with Vega Siclia Valbuena – could not be further from Roca’s generation in mind – such as high-quality creations. But they were no less creative or worthwhile. Roast crown of pigeon is audience, “if producers want to reach a enjoy”. The matches she suggested with this then went on to describe how he uses an dishes inspired by the essential flavours the original wine. array of hi-tech equipment to break down, of specific grape varieties or styles, which would then provide the ideal match with pulverize, and reconstitute wines to “build” THE CONFERENCE RETURNED to earth, in the best sense, with the more intuitive range of wines produced by the Primum unabashed joy at the results was infectious: a dish inspired by Chablis with oysters, But if the process was unromantic, Roca’s matches dreamt up by Fiona Beckett for a Familae Vini club of top family producers (Torres, Vega Sicilia, Symington, Sassicaia all very well, but as Beckett reminded the new generation, they should think about how to take their wines to the food they etc). Beckett made the point that “twenty- THE WINE MERCHANT OCTOBER 2014 15

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